Why doesn’t sublimation work on cotton?

When asked what type of fabric works best for sublimation, we always reply that 100% polyester will provide the best results. Invariably, the next question is usually, “My customer doesn’t want to pay for the higher priced polyester shirt, can I use a blended fabric?” The answer is yes, but there is a caveat.

The lower the polyester content in the fabric, the less vibrant the image will appear when sublimated. This vibrancy issue is because sublimation ink does not adhere to natural fibers. Upon sublimating blended fabric, it may not look bad initially. It is really when the shirt is washed that the image will lose vibrancy because the ink is washing off the cotton fibers (Figures 1 and 2 below).

figure 1 scaled

Now, some images will look amazing if they are slightly faded. They will look vintage or like the shirt has been worn for 10 years (Figure 3 below).

figure 2 scaled

However, if you want shirts where the image will stay as bright from day one to day 501, then 100% polyester is the way to go (Figure 4 below).

figure 4 scaled

—JDS Industries

Allee Bruce

Alexandria Bruce

Alexandria Bruce is the former managing editor of GRAPHICS PRO magazine.

View all articles by Alexandria Bruce  

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